As the debate over climate changes continues to unfold, progress to reach across the political divide has stagnated. Climate change has been stressed, fought over, and covered to such an extent that most people have begun to feel burnt out and hopeless.
Luckily, the fight isn’t over yet. A Yale study shows that over 50 percent of Americans believe climate change is happening. In Maine specifically, over 65 percent believe it’s real.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean they are willing, or can, act. If they could, I wouldn’t be writing this article. So the question is, how do we engage with people who don’t believe in climate change and/or those who don’t feel they can act to help in an effective way? The answer may be to simply not talk about it.
"That’s ridiculous. How do do that?" you may say. Well, what if I told you the solutions to climate change could fix other issues too?
For a recap, climate change is a result of the mass production of methane and other invisible gases produced by oil and natural gas harvest and use. These gases become trapped in the sky and hold in unprecedented levels of heat that normally wouldn’t be there. The solution to such a problem has been to try and stop initiating the production of said harmful gases, and instead buy and use renewable energy.
Renewable energy is a term that’s been thrown around a lot lately. To put it simply, it’s a form of energy production that harvests unlimited resources and converts them into power. Solar panels, taking energy from the sun’s heat, and wind turbines, using wind to turn propellers that generate energy, are the quickest to come to mind. Biofuels harvesting energy from human waste as a source of power are also being developed.
The fascinating thing about renewable energy is that is also doesn’t produce pollution at all. It keeps the land, air, and water healthy and usable for everyone. What’s even better is that these types of energies are quickly becoming a booming industry.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA) has said that today, twice as many Americans are working in the solar and wind farm industry as opposed to coal mining. In 2016, the solar industry was creating jobs at 17 times more than the whole of the economy, and wind power jobs have doubled over the past three years.
Wind power, for instance, counts for nearly 20 percent of in-state energy. Maine is now the number one producer of wind power in New England, and still has extreme potential to grow even further. Maine even ranks 8th in the nation for "annual installed wind energy capacity." The University of Maine is also developing technology to expand the number of floating wind farms offshore and help make it more accessible for energy companies.
All while jobs are exploding, the price of renewables has sharply declined. The IREA has gone further to find that at the current rate of price decline, solar panels and wind energy will be consistently cheaper than fossil fuels and natural gas (often dubbed ‘dirty energy’) by 2020.
A massively underrated factor of solar panels is that once you pay off the original price of the panels and their installation, you no longer have to pay for your energy. It’s a closed system; all the energy you receive comes from the sun, and we don’t have to pay for sunlight.
But even still with all these benefits, nothing has really changed with our energy consumption. While depressing for most of us to hear, the average American simply doesn’t have time to think about the issue of climate change. We all have hectic lives and often don’t have time for anything else besides our health and our money. These are the exact two things renewable energy can vastly improve for us, and also offers the added benefit of solving the impending doom and gloom of climate change.
The financial savings and benefits have already been laid out, including a prosperous economic future. So how does health come into play?
People around the world, and within the state of Maine, are falling ill every day due to air and water pollution.
The World Health Organization says that the leading health effects attributed to air pollution are, but potentially not limited to, bronchitis, emphysema, a variety of respiratory allergies, asthma, and lung and heart diseases.
According to the WHO, “4.6 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution.” There is no ‘number one’ source, but power plants for ‘dirty’ fuels and products that use them (cars, planes, etc.) contribute significantly. People most impacted by dirty air are those who live in cities, where most of the human race resides. If something isn’t done about this, we may have to start buying clean air like in the kids' movie, The Lorax.
The numbers for water pollution aren’t much better. Oil spills, acid rain (caused by burning fossil fuels), and other assorted chemicals make their way into water sources around the world. While it’s extremely difficult to isolate deaths that have been directly caused by the pollution of water by ‘dirty energy,’ plenty of illnesses do arise. To name a few: poisoning, liver diseases, central nervous system damage, and various cancers. Most often affected are children, since their bodies aren’t yet equipped to handle such onslaughts to their health.
We need to change the conversation and bring more attention to and start talking about these immediate issues, issues that many people have to face every single day. These are problems that people are directly impacted by and can clearly see.
If we, as people who care for our society's future and sustainability, can change our message, we may very well get on the track to solving one of the 21st century’s most pressing issues, climate change.
Kathryn B. Morin is a student at Gorham High School and is a regular contributor to Raise Your Voice.